Preservation by Documentation: The CyArk Commitment

by Justin Barton
October 15, 2007
4,000 years of history lie beneath the Karakum desert in the form of the remains of an ancient city, Merv. Strategically located at an oasis along the now extinct land-based trade routes of Central Asia, Merv's site made it a great regional capital for both trade and politics for over 2,500 years. 30m-high walls still stretch over 12km. Stunning mud-brick architecture still dots the 1,000 hectares of once-occupied landscape. And archaeological deposits from 3-17m in depth encase the histories of ancient urban development. Yet these magnificent archaeological remains are slowly but constantly eroding from the elements. They are in urgent need of preservation through documentation.

A team led by archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology (IoA) at University College London (UCL) has taken on this task. The project is directed by Tim Williams of the IoA and the digital documentation team includes Joseph Severn of Plowman Craven & Associates (PCA) and myself. We have chosen the latest in documentation technologies, long range 3D laser scanning, as the core of our methodology and are partnering with CyArk, a nonprofit organisation whose origin goes back to the birth of long range laser scanning.

Laser scanning
The beginning 3D laser scanning and CyArk are both the offspring of Ben Kacyra. In 1964, Ben Kacyra emigrated from his native Iraq to the United States where he obtained a master's degree in civil and structural engineering. After receiving his degree, Kacyra co-founded Cygna Engineering in San Francisco.

This firm gained a high reputation for designing complex structures, such as oil refineries, petrochemical and nuclear power plants. After construction, those facilities typically required scores of employees armed with tape measures and clip boards to create as-built documents. Intrigued by the possibility of making this time and cost consuming process more automatic, Kacyra closed his engineering firm at the end of the 1980s and embarked on a technological and entrepreneurial adventure to make the task more accurate and time efficient. He founded Cyra Technologies and with his partners Jerry Dimsdale and wife Barbara Kacyra, partnerships with Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Los Alamos National Laboratory, and a significant investment by Chevron Corporation, Kacyra succeed in developing the first long range laser scanner with the capability to record millions of survey points to within a few millimetres of spacing and accuracy.

In 2001, Cyra Technologies was acquired by Leica Geosystems and around the same time, two events astonished the world and deeply moved Kacyra. The Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas and the ancient mud walled city of Bam in Iran was crushed in a devastating earthquake. Kacyra realised that the new technology he had invented for industry could play an important role in historic preservation.

By 2000, Ben and Barbara Kacyra had established the Kacyra Family Foundation. They subsequently decided to devote a significant part of their foundation's work to historic preservation through documentation by laser scanning and other advanced survey and imaging technologies. Thus CyArk was created in 2003 with the mission of:

Preserving cultural heritage sites through collecting, archiving and openly distributing data developed by scanning, digital modelling and other stateof-the-art technologies.

CyArk fosters the use of advanced survey documentation technologies in the arena of heritage site management and preservation. It facilitates relationships between heritage organizations, academic institutions and service providers and enables the archiving of preservation documentation data of cultural heritage sites in its open access 3D heritage archive.

The archive is a repository for data from cultural heritage sites that has been created by CyArk and its partners worldwide. It is a digital library of dimensionally precise, visually rich, 3D point cloud data created by laser scanning. This data is integrated with high resolution photographic data to create high definition documentation (HDD).

The Internet archive is also the home for many other types of image data of cultural heritage sites. The archived data is a valuable resource to historic preservation professionals, such as site managers, archaeologists, conservators, architects and engineers. It is also a resource of immense educational value, serving both K-12 education levels and scholars and students from university, as well as a general audience with a passion for cultural heritage.

CyArk works as an enabler by bridging the gap between the professional and academic worlds. It brings together individuals, universities, professionals andgovernment organizations to work on heritage preservation projects in an environment that perpetuates cooperative advantage; developing their capacities to engage resources beyond the capability of any single entity. This ever-growing list of international partners and collaborators comprises the high definition heritage network.

The Internet archive houses the media collected from each of its projects. It provides tools to aid its partners in the use of their data sets in a preservation capacity as well as free access to all project data. Additionally, CyArk has also implemented software for ease-of-use, such as the 3D Viewer, a Java-based web applet that allows users to view, manipulate, measure and section 3D models. CyArk is also on the verge of releasing a new program called Site Manager, a complete, hosted solution to organizing, managing, archiving and presenting heritage data. This software will give heritage professionals the ability to develop, edit and upload media and information for the archive and website locally, speeding up the process of getting information into the archive as well as providing local control over a project's data.

Since its creation by the Kacyra Family Foundation, CyArk has been involved with the establishment of sound, methodological practices. It has therefore set out to work with its partners to develop best practice methods in heritage documentation. It develops methodologies in data capture and archiving cooperatively with its partners; growing in expertise with each new project.

In the 2006-2007 academic year, CyArk sponsored an internship program with its partner, the University of California at Berkeley. Students participated in a programme where they learned to collect 3D data in the field and how to postprocess data in the lab. The training programme has increased to accommodate the training of more teams in this technology. In May 2007, a team from Notre Dame's architectural department arrived in California for a week-long, intensive HDD training programme in laser scanning, panoramic photography and high dynamic range (HDR) photography.

CyArk has a growing archive of projects from around the world. Several were key in forming the documentation methodology. The monuments around the Great Plaza at Tikal, Guatemala were important for the initial development of HDD data fusion methods. Spruce Tree House at Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, USA was an important site in which documentation techniques and training templates were developed that enhanced the National Park Service staff's ability to address the vast documentation needs at the Mesa Verde National Park with new tools.

The Bab al-Barqiyya site in Cairo serves as a fitting case study for field documentation operations in a CyArk project. In September 2006, a team from the Development of Integrated Procedures for Restoration of Monuments (DIAPReM) of the University of Ferrara and CyArk conducted a HDD pilot project of a fortified gate in the Ayyubid Wall which defines the edge between the Darb al-Ahmar district of Cairo and the new al-Azhar Park. The gate is a prized example of Ayyubid ingenuity and engineering and represents a design imported to Egypt from Syria.

Alessandro Grieco and Daniel Blersch represented DIAPReM and Oliver Monson represented CyArk as project coordinator. The purpose of the project was to demonstrate the capabilities and advantages of HDD and how it might be applied to the ongoing restoration activities of the Ayyubid Wall by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. The scope of the project was to document the Bab al-Barqiyya gate itself, both exterior and interior, as well as 20m to each side of the gate. The project was funded by the AKTC, Historic Cities Support Programme.

The 3D laser scan survey was executed with a Leica/Cyrax HDS 3000. The 3D survey was coordinated and georeferenced with an existing topographical survey conducted by survey engineers from the al-Ahzar Park staff. High-resolution and HDR spherical panoramic photography was executed from each of the scan area set-up positions. This photographic data was augmented by other single frame high-resolution and HDR photography. The photographic data provides a further level of detail and accuracy to the point cloud data set and has been fused with this data set for purposes of visualisation and research.

Merv, Turkmenistan
In September and early October 2007, CyArk will be teamed with the Ancient Merv Project, conducted by the Institute of Archaeology at University College London, Plowman Craven & Associates and the State Historical and Cultural Park Ancient Merv. This six week HDD project will incorporate 3D laser scanning, highresolution digital photography, 360° spherical panoramas and HDR photography to create an optimum documentation dataset of the remains of the city.

The earthen architecture of Merv makes it impossible to fully cease erosion, but a comprehensive conservation plan has been implemented across this UNESCO world heritage site. The HDD data set will be used to assess the structures, provide for future conservation efforts and intervention, and supply highly detailed documentation for both physical and recorded preservation (important for structures such as the 12km of Islamic walls, which cannot realistically be wholly conserved). Also, via the CyArk Internet The Greater Kyz Kala is the largest remaining köshk (noble house) of Merv, Turkmenistan. It is of great architectural and cultural significance, and so it will be the first structure documented by the HDD project. Photo courtesy of Paul Wordsworth, IoA. archive, this important world heritage site will ultimately become accessible through a wide variety of media to a global audience ranging from heritage site professionals to the general public.
Related Projects:
Ancient Merv